Do as I say, not as I do?

November 21, 2008 § 7 Comments

What advice do you take from, say, the 4 of Pentacles? Is this guy telling you to hold fast or let go? Do you always read it the same way?

Another tarot reader was talking the other day about the 4 of Pents that appeared in one of her readings and she took it to mean “let go, don’t be so controlling”. I remember when I was first learning tarot, that’s the interpretation I saw most often. The “materialistic miser” in this card is usually seen as having some kind of problem. Hey – we say – you can’t go through life hoarding and saving. You’ve got to be prepared to lose in order to gain. As Joan Bunning writes:

“The lesson of the Four of Pentacles is that control is impossible. We stand in the world as in a great ocean. Who could manage or possess such power? The only way to keep from drowning is to ride the currents. The ocean will support us as long as we swim with the flow.”

Which is true, of course. But when the 4 of Pentacles shows up as advice, I’m more likely to read it literally. Stick, save, hoard, accumulate. That’s what the image shows, after all. As advice, isn’t the card telling you, “look at what I’m showing you…do this“?

I remember being greatly perplexed a couple of years ago about how to interpret these sorts of not-negative-but-not-entirely-positive-either-cards, such as the 4 of Pents and the 2 of Swords. I guess it just didn’t seem right to me somehow that the advice of a card would be to do the exact opposite of what it depicts. Then someone recommended a book…er, I think it was this one…which took the literal view. So, for example, the advice given would be more like:

4 of Pentacles = hold on tight, be possessive, be controlling (as opposed to release)
2 of Swords = claim ignorance, don’t get involved, act in denial (as opposed to lift the blindfold and pick a side)
9 of Swords = pay attention to your worries, confront your fears (as opposed to stop worrying unnecessarily)
4 of Cups = wallow, be self-indulgent, lay like broccoli (as opposed to stop feeling sorry for yourself and get off your lazy arse)

This made much more sense to me and I’ve pretty much read them that way ever since. However, I believe there is no right or wrong in this matter. And I’ll add the disclaimer that I reserve the right to use either interpretation in any reading past, present or future. I just find it interesting that there are two distinct ways to approach these type of cards. And I wonder if most readers more often choose one approach over the other.

What say you?

§ 7 Responses to Do as I say, not as I do?

  • Helen says:

    The 4 Pentacles turning up as advice can draw your attention to the fact if you like, that money is just money, no real value on its own its what you do with it that counts. So perhaps this card could also be suggesting here in the advice situation that one needs to use the resources they have in order to benefit from the rewards, rather than have them stagnate around them.

    Just one possibility here 🙂


  • Helen says:

    I guess whether you would interpret the card opposite to what you see would also depend on what the other cards around it were saying – because the four of Pentacles could also be saying, hey the time is not right to splash out, you need to apply some thrift here and build your wealth for a while. Or it could even be saying that you yourself need to apply some control in your dealings in life, and not to be so free and open with yourself….

    I think all cards have such a multitude of possibilities and the images can convey more than just the first impression.

  • archertarot says:

    Hi Helen 🙂

    I think you’re absolutely right – that cards have a multitude of possible interpretations and a lot depends on the context of the spread position, other cards, question, etc. etc. I’d never lay down any hard and fast rules about how cards SHOULD be interpreted (I don’t think…;-) It’s just interesting to observe different approaches.


  • Helen says:

    No you didn’t at all, and I really liked your article, it made me stop and think about the card just a bit more 🙂


  • LilyL says:

    That was exactly my first instinct when I saw the four of pens. It’s an advice, take it literally.

  • Temperance says:

    I’m so glad I came across this article. I pulled the 4 of Pentacles last night (which isn’t a card I currently have a lot of experience with) in the advice position and my first instinct was to read it literally. When I went searching for more depth on this card, I was surprised to see so many “Do as I say, not as I do” interpretations and it really confused me.

    I feel quite strongly that the Tarot is very purposeful in delivering its messages (my deck, in particular, tends to be very blunt). If it was advising me to ‘let go’ or ‘loosen up’, I believe I would have pulled a card that would have very clearly stated so. That being said, everyone has his or her own method and I completely respect that.

    After digging deeper into this card, I do feel it is advising that selfishness is necessary because the querent is at a place where he needs to gather his personal power (whether that means material resources or deeper resources related to personal security, physicality, and self-esteem) so that he can use it to provide the support/foundation he needs to act confidently in the situation. This was powerful insight for me that I never would have discovered had I not challenged myself to go beyond the “let go” interpretation, which didn’t make sense in the situation. I think it’s important to reinforce that the reader needs to trust his or her intuition as well as trust that his or her deck is is delivering that particular card for a specific reason.

  • Sarah Hansen says:

    Excellent. What. Genits interpretation. I took a screen shot so I can reference it in the future. Thnx

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